New Jersey Greenlights Virtual Proceedings Post COVID-19

Author: Jessica C. Pooran|January 5, 2022

Virtual court proceedings likely aren’t going anywhere, even after the pandemic ends...
New Jersey Greenlights Virtual Proceedings Post COVID-19

New Jersey Greenlights Virtual Proceedings Post COVID-19

Virtual court proceedings likely aren’t going anywhere, even after the pandemic ends...

Virtual court proceedings likely aren’t going anywhere, even after the pandemic ends. The New Jersey Supreme Court is the latest state court to approve the permanent use of remote court proceedings.

Reliance on Virtual Proceedings During Pandemic

As discussed in prior articles, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in widespread changes in how courts conduct their operations, forcing them to quickly adopt technology to keep cases moving while in-person proceedings were halted.  After being forced to rely on virtual proceedings for almost two years, courts are embracing the use of technology to make proceedings more efficient, even when in-person proceedings are available.

In an Order, dated November 18, 2021, the New Jersey Supreme Court outlined the framework for future court operations for both now and after the Covid-19 pandemic. “[The Order] contemplates a transition from almost all in-person court proceedings before the pandemic to a future that uses technology to provide expanded options for access, participation, timeliness, and justice,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said in a press statement.

In a Notice to the Bar dated July 16, 2021, the New Jersey Judiciary requested comments on the future of court operations, including the use of remote and in-person proceedings. The Notice emphasized that New Jersey courts "successfully adapted to remote operations during the extended COVID-19 crisis, conducting more than 212,000 virtual court proceedings that involved more than 2.9 million participants." The Order relies on the input of judges and staff as well as more than 100 comments received from the general public and various legal stakeholders, including the New Jersey State Bar Association and numerous individual attorneys.

"Attorneys and parties have praised the reduced time and cost associated with virtual proceedings for brief and straightforward matters," Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said. "They also noted there are fewer scheduling conflicts and requests for continuances. At the same time, commenters highlighted the value of bringing parties together in person at certain critical junctures, including settlement conferences and proceedings that involve especially serious penalties or consequences."

Future Role of Remote Court Proceedings

The New Jersey Supreme Court Order outlines how remote court proceedings will be used for the duration of the pandemic and beyond. Here’s what attorneys and their clients need to know about the new rules:

Matters Held In-Person

The Order provides that criminal trials will continue to be held in person. While the following matters will generally proceed in person, they may proceed virtually with the consent of all parties unless a party is absent and unreachable:

  • Sentencing hearings in Criminal, Family, and Municipal matters, and dispositional hearings in all Juvenile Delinquency (FJ) matters;
  • Juvenile delinquency adjudications, including plea hearings and bench trials in the Family Division;
  • Evidentiary hearings and bench trials in Criminal matters; Final Extreme Risk Protective Order (FERPO) hearings; and Megan's Law hearings;
  • Trials in Municipal matters that involve a reasonable likelihood of a jail sentence or loss or suspension of license, and evidentiary hearings;
  • All evidentiary hearings conducted in regard to a juvenile delinquency matter, including waiver proceedings and violation hearings;
  • Termination of parental rights trials and other hearings in which constitutional interests are at stake; and
  • Hearings for an adjudication of incapacity and appointment of a permanent guardian.

The Order also provides that the following matters, among others, will also generally proceed in person:

  • oral arguments before the Supreme Court and the Appellate Division;
  • settlement conferences in the trial divisions of the Superior Court;
  • certain criminal court proceedings that involve defendants not in custody (e.g., post-indictment arraignments; pretrial conferences at which the court intends to set a trial date pursuant to Rule 3:9-l(f); and motions to revoke pretrial release);
  • trials on Final Restraining Orders and Final Protective Orders;
  • and non-routine conferences in all courts (e.g., pretrial conferences in Municipal Court in which the in-person appearance of a defendant is appropriate to resolve code enforcement, public nuisance, and other matters that affect public health and safety. )

Matters Held Virtually

The Order provides that the following matters, in general, will proceed in a virtual format, absent an individualized reason to proceed in person based on the facts and circumstances of the case:

  • Routine motion arguments and case management conferences in all trial divisions of the Superior Court and in the Municipal Courts, subject to judicial discretion to schedule matters in person, including to effectively manage proceedings that involve numerous attorneys and parties;
  • Criminal: Central Judicial Processing I First Appearances on defendants in custody; most proceedings that involve state prisoners; detention hearings; and certain other ancillary matters, including but not limited to municipal appeals, expungements, and gun permit application hearings;
  • Civil: landlord tenant proceedings; Special Civil (DC) and Small Claims (SC)trials; mediations; and actions in lieu of prerogative writs;
  • General equity: uncontested guardianships of persons alleged to be incapacitated, with the consent of all parties; most probate matters; and foreclosure mediation;
  • Family: uncontested divorces; uncontested adoptions; hearings to establish or modify child support; applications for a temporary restraining order (TRO) and initial conferences; initial applications for protection pursuant to the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act (SASPA); parent education conferences; and mediations, except for Intensive Settlement Conferences;
  • Municipal: hearings and trials, except for (i) certain matters with especially serious penalties (e.g., those with a reasonable likelihood of a jail term or license suspension upon conviction, such as DWI); (ii) trials that involve multiple witnesses or interpreting services or complex evidence; and (iii) matters in which the defendant has failed to appear for two or more virtual proceedings and in which a warrant or license suspension cannot be ordered;
  • Tax Court: routine motion arguments; case management conferences; and settlement conferences; and
  • Intensive Supervision Program (ISP) hearings.

Flexibility for Remote/In-Person Proceedings

Under the Order, courts have the flexibility to accommodate the needs of the parties when proceedings both in-person and remotely. For instance:

  • In matters that may be conducted virtually, judges may determine to proceed in person when the participants have demonstrated an inability to proceed in a virtual format, or based on other persuasive reasons in an individual case.
  • In matters that are conducted in person, judges may permit one or more participants to participate virtually based on the individual facts and circumstances of the case.
  • In matters that are conducted in a virtual format, judges may accommodate a participant who appears and requests to participate in person.

According to the New Jersey Supreme Court, it plans to provide future guidance regarding how to conduct other events, including jury selections and some civil jury trials. For now, though, those matters for the most part will continue to be conducted virtually in light of current COVID-19 trends.

If you have questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Jessica Pooran, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work, at 201-896-4100.


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AboutJessica C. Pooran

Jessica C. Pooran has joined Scarinci Hollenbeck as an Associate with the litigation practice team. Ms. Pooran is experienced in representing both public and private clients in various litigation and business law matters.Full Biography

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New Jersey Greenlights Virtual Proceedings Post COVID-19

New Jersey Greenlights Virtual Proceedings Post COVID-19
Author: Jessica C. Pooran

Virtual court proceedings likely aren’t going anywhere, even after the pandemic ends. The New Jersey Supreme Court is the latest state court to approve the permanent use of remote court proceedings.

Reliance on Virtual Proceedings During Pandemic

As discussed in prior articles, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in widespread changes in how courts conduct their operations, forcing them to quickly adopt technology to keep cases moving while in-person proceedings were halted.  After being forced to rely on virtual proceedings for almost two years, courts are embracing the use of technology to make proceedings more efficient, even when in-person proceedings are available.

In an Order, dated November 18, 2021, the New Jersey Supreme Court outlined the framework for future court operations for both now and after the Covid-19 pandemic. “[The Order] contemplates a transition from almost all in-person court proceedings before the pandemic to a future that uses technology to provide expanded options for access, participation, timeliness, and justice,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said in a press statement.

In a Notice to the Bar dated July 16, 2021, the New Jersey Judiciary requested comments on the future of court operations, including the use of remote and in-person proceedings. The Notice emphasized that New Jersey courts "successfully adapted to remote operations during the extended COVID-19 crisis, conducting more than 212,000 virtual court proceedings that involved more than 2.9 million participants." The Order relies on the input of judges and staff as well as more than 100 comments received from the general public and various legal stakeholders, including the New Jersey State Bar Association and numerous individual attorneys.

"Attorneys and parties have praised the reduced time and cost associated with virtual proceedings for brief and straightforward matters," Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said. "They also noted there are fewer scheduling conflicts and requests for continuances. At the same time, commenters highlighted the value of bringing parties together in person at certain critical junctures, including settlement conferences and proceedings that involve especially serious penalties or consequences."

Future Role of Remote Court Proceedings

The New Jersey Supreme Court Order outlines how remote court proceedings will be used for the duration of the pandemic and beyond. Here’s what attorneys and their clients need to know about the new rules:

Matters Held In-Person

The Order provides that criminal trials will continue to be held in person. While the following matters will generally proceed in person, they may proceed virtually with the consent of all parties unless a party is absent and unreachable:

  • Sentencing hearings in Criminal, Family, and Municipal matters, and dispositional hearings in all Juvenile Delinquency (FJ) matters;
  • Juvenile delinquency adjudications, including plea hearings and bench trials in the Family Division;
  • Evidentiary hearings and bench trials in Criminal matters; Final Extreme Risk Protective Order (FERPO) hearings; and Megan's Law hearings;
  • Trials in Municipal matters that involve a reasonable likelihood of a jail sentence or loss or suspension of license, and evidentiary hearings;
  • All evidentiary hearings conducted in regard to a juvenile delinquency matter, including waiver proceedings and violation hearings;
  • Termination of parental rights trials and other hearings in which constitutional interests are at stake; and
  • Hearings for an adjudication of incapacity and appointment of a permanent guardian.

The Order also provides that the following matters, among others, will also generally proceed in person:

  • oral arguments before the Supreme Court and the Appellate Division;
  • settlement conferences in the trial divisions of the Superior Court;
  • certain criminal court proceedings that involve defendants not in custody (e.g., post-indictment arraignments; pretrial conferences at which the court intends to set a trial date pursuant to Rule 3:9-l(f); and motions to revoke pretrial release);
  • trials on Final Restraining Orders and Final Protective Orders;
  • and non-routine conferences in all courts (e.g., pretrial conferences in Municipal Court in which the in-person appearance of a defendant is appropriate to resolve code enforcement, public nuisance, and other matters that affect public health and safety. )

Matters Held Virtually

The Order provides that the following matters, in general, will proceed in a virtual format, absent an individualized reason to proceed in person based on the facts and circumstances of the case:

  • Routine motion arguments and case management conferences in all trial divisions of the Superior Court and in the Municipal Courts, subject to judicial discretion to schedule matters in person, including to effectively manage proceedings that involve numerous attorneys and parties;
  • Criminal: Central Judicial Processing I First Appearances on defendants in custody; most proceedings that involve state prisoners; detention hearings; and certain other ancillary matters, including but not limited to municipal appeals, expungements, and gun permit application hearings;
  • Civil: landlord tenant proceedings; Special Civil (DC) and Small Claims (SC)trials; mediations; and actions in lieu of prerogative writs;
  • General equity: uncontested guardianships of persons alleged to be incapacitated, with the consent of all parties; most probate matters; and foreclosure mediation;
  • Family: uncontested divorces; uncontested adoptions; hearings to establish or modify child support; applications for a temporary restraining order (TRO) and initial conferences; initial applications for protection pursuant to the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act (SASPA); parent education conferences; and mediations, except for Intensive Settlement Conferences;
  • Municipal: hearings and trials, except for (i) certain matters with especially serious penalties (e.g., those with a reasonable likelihood of a jail term or license suspension upon conviction, such as DWI); (ii) trials that involve multiple witnesses or interpreting services or complex evidence; and (iii) matters in which the defendant has failed to appear for two or more virtual proceedings and in which a warrant or license suspension cannot be ordered;
  • Tax Court: routine motion arguments; case management conferences; and settlement conferences; and
  • Intensive Supervision Program (ISP) hearings.

Flexibility for Remote/In-Person Proceedings

Under the Order, courts have the flexibility to accommodate the needs of the parties when proceedings both in-person and remotely. For instance:

  • In matters that may be conducted virtually, judges may determine to proceed in person when the participants have demonstrated an inability to proceed in a virtual format, or based on other persuasive reasons in an individual case.
  • In matters that are conducted in person, judges may permit one or more participants to participate virtually based on the individual facts and circumstances of the case.
  • In matters that are conducted in a virtual format, judges may accommodate a participant who appears and requests to participate in person.

According to the New Jersey Supreme Court, it plans to provide future guidance regarding how to conduct other events, including jury selections and some civil jury trials. For now, though, those matters for the most part will continue to be conducted virtually in light of current COVID-19 trends.

If you have questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Jessica Pooran, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work, at 201-896-4100.